Tuesday, October 12, 2004

So far so Good

Well I've now had another look at As Good As New (though still not exactly a comprehensive read) and I've got some idea of why some Christians, particularly those of an Evangelical theology have objections to the text. It's not simply that the book ignores the canon (the agreed structure and contents of the Bible as recorded as early as 300AD by Athanasius), and omits Revelation, Jude and other books or that it omits the Old Testament entirely. I think that the introduction to the book may well have provoked many Evangelicals to reject the book out of hand before they have even explored it as Henson describes his Evangelical upbringing as "brainwashing" through chorus singing. This is a description that is unlikely to encourage anyone designating themself as Evangelical or who values the singing of choruses to explore further. I think this is a shame.

As for my own reflections, I think it is an interesting exploration of the texts. In the introduction the translator makes it clear that his selection of books to include and exclude is not merely arbitrary but based on sound biblical scholarship. Henson argues that he has included those texts which he thinks the early Christians would have included if they had known what we know now about the true authorship of texts such as The Gospel of Thomas, Revelation, the letters to Timothy and the letters of Jude, 2 Peter and 2 & 3 John.

Personally I rather like his modified order of the Gospels in a more chronological order of composition, especially as it places the Gospel of Luke and Acts together. Ever since I knew they were written by the same person (it wasn't in my early years Sunday School curriculum as I recall!) I've found their separation by John's Gospel a little strange.

The whole question of whether this is a NEW New Testament is something else. I think whether you can even contemplate such a prospect depends on how you view the Bible itself. I've had this debate recently with a friend and for me the text of the Bible is clearly inspired by God and "breathed through by the Holy Spirit" as someone put it. HOWEVER I also believe in the fallibility of humanity and, as a former historian, I KNOW that the text we have now is NOT the exact text originally written by the first authors. Scribal errors and lost or damaged manuscripts are a part of reality as are the peculiar (in both senses of the word!) ideas of editors and indeed translators. Anyone who wants to read the New Testament as the "original canon" should be doing so in Greek because my experience as a translator ALSO tells me that NO translation can be wholly accurate as two languages are just DIFFERENT - that's the point! Muslims place such a great emphasis on the precision of the words they consider dictated to Muhammad by Allah that they do not consider a translation of those words to be valid. This is NOT how the Christian church views the Bible. Unfortunately some people seem to react to books like As Good As News as if this IS how the Christian church views the Bible

My worry is that people who depend upon every word of the translation of the Bible that they know may ground their faith too much on nuances within it rather than on a combination of that Biblical foundation with a real and dedicated relationship with God and the support of the wisdom of Christians before us and the fellowship of the other Christians who make up the modern church.

In my theology class last year, we had a debate about the words of Jesus focussing on Jesus' words on the cross. Mike, our tutor, asked us to place the words from the cross in order of importance to us as sources of inspiration. He then asked us to consider what effect it would have on our faith if it were proven that Jesus NEVER said those words. An interesting debate ensued. Words which have ALWAYS had great significance for me wre suddenly taken from me and I thought "They have taken away my words and I do not know where they have put them!" Yet after the initial shock, I realised that in fact what REALLY mattered was my faith and my relationship with God. Evenwithout those words both those were unchanged. Of course, this was taking away only a few words of the Gospel. How far could we go before there is not enough?

There is no doubt that the Bible is a fundamental part of my religious devotion, my faith and indeed my life and yes that collection of texts was mostly agreed over 1700 years ago (though edited by the protestants only 500 years ago to exclude the Apocrypha) but what if it were WRONG? What if God had wanted something a bit different and people hadn't wuite understood his inspirations or what if texts had been lost (like the Gospel of Thomas - perhaps lost until a more enlightened time as Henson suggests in his introduction)? If we are inspired NOW to see the value of some texts and to realise that other texts are not in fact as central to the church as they may have been considered, should we not perhaps be OPEN to that change?

I'm not suggesting that we should adopt this book as the NEW BIBLE but we should not reject it out of hand as a useful exploration of the real history of the composition of the texts and a challenge to our reliance on the word rather than on the Word.


Anonymous said...

hello sarah, my name is jon and one of ur freinds showed me the website, v intersting ur ideas oin the bible and new testement. but iv got a few pointers, firstly sayin that the bible is wrong and/or miss-translated is dening God, his awesome power. u may argue that it isnt him but us that makes mistakes but as is God's essence that he uses our mistakes for his purpose. also the parts left out of the new testament were left out after a lot of prayer and meditation from monks(or thats wat iv been told anyways) and lastly has this thought process changed ur beliefs or faith or even how u veiw the bible? if u wann reply ill tell ur freind to tel u my email et c.

Anonymous said...

Kathryn here - this is one of the reasons why I think you are fab!! Can't wait to see you and have a good chinwag about this. Nearly got shot down in flames yesterday for suggesting that Genesis might not be hitorically accurate! Grins, k